In November, the Evening Standard‘s City Hall Reporter Katharine Barney (now sadly culled) penned a short piece on a speech by Boris Johnson at the Royal Opera House. It appeared at first glance that this speech was something to celebrate – he was lauding the achievements of Visit London in attracting increased tourism to London despite the recession. Johnson claimed that by spending £2m, he had produced £50m. This sounds like a very welcome conversion to the cause of active, city-government led promotion of tourism on the part of the Mayor: after all, amongst his first acts in the job had been to slash around £6.5m from the promotional budget. But one sentence in Barney’s article stood out:
In a speech at the Royal Opera House, Mr Johnson praised his “Only in London” campaign, which included helping to pay for adverts for Ryanair and easyJet in foreign press.
The Mayor’s campaign helping to pay for budget airlines’ adverts? Really? Aren’t there supposed to be EU state aid rules about these sort of things?
Of course, it rings true because Johnson has form in this field. Transport for London poster sites carry free adverts for BA flights to New York as part of a supposedly reciprocal deal with the Big Apple’s transport authorities.
Intrigued by whether the Standard had got it right, and if bits of the GLA precept from my council tax bill were lubricating the marketing budgets of a couple of airlines, I fired off an FOI request to City Hall, who referred it over to the London Development Agency. Firstly, I asked whether the Standard quote above and its paraphrase of the Mayor represented accurate reportage. No, said the LDA, they would not be
accepting that the passages you quote are accurate reportage. (more…)